Monday, October 05, 2015

Grand Opening of Lobster ME

Dining at the Westfield Mall in San Francisco has always been a step up from your standard mall food court options (even though I haven't loved the selection).  The top floor houses the Restaurant Collection with full service restaurants like Martin Yan's M.Y. China (where I ate once, and wasn't impressed) and Cupola Pizza (where we really didn't like the pizza).  But even the lower level food court is nicer than average too; you won't find any standard fast food here, the closest you get are a few larger local chains (Andale, SF Soup Company, etc) and of course the lackluster Coriander Gourmet Thai and the slightly better Loving Hut.

One eatery I never visited in the food court, but kinda always sorta wanted to, was Catch Isle.  The fish and chips always looked tempting.  But, alas, I waited too long, and they closed.  Perhaps it wasn't that good.  In the space however came something even more promising: Lobster ME.

Lobster ME is a small chain, with two locations in Vegas and one in Maryland, and now one in the food court.  They serve a fast-casual menu centered around lobster.

For the soft opening, they were giving out free lobster rolls.  I couldn't resist.  Yes, the idea of lobster from a food court sounds a bit scary (although not nearly as scary as a McLobster!  Perhaps more like Panera lobster sandwich scary?)

I braved the lines and drama of opening day in order to claim my freebie.  I'm glad I did.  The lobster was good, the staff impressive.  Next time I'm uh, wanting lobster, and I'm in the mall, I'd certainly try it again.

The Space

Lobster ME is located in the San Francisco Westfield mall ground floor foodcourt.  The space is typical of this slightly more upscale foodcourt.
Food Court Location.
Lobster ME is in the center of the food court, rather than along the exterior like most of the food options.  This means it is fairly small, and the entire kitchen facility is contained within view, rather than out back like the establishments on the outskirts.

It has no dedicated seating, all seating is shared with others places in the food court.
The light up menu lists out the options: lobster rolls, lobster melts, soups, "more lobster", and a few non-lobster items.  Appetizing photos of lobster are there to entice.
Front Area.
The space behind the counter hosts the drink station, and an open pass to the very small kitchen area and a doorway to the back room.  It is small, but the staff do a good job of navigating around each other.
The kitchen is on display with glass surrounding it on all sides.  I felt a bit bad watching and taking a photo, but, well, this is how they designed it.  They want you to watch lobster rolls being assembled, in all their glory, right?

The cooks ran an impressive assembly line, one person grilling rolls and filling them, another prepping lobster, and another frying batches of their house made chips.  For a grand opening, they really were quite organized.

The Food

Obviously, the menu centers around lobster. I expected this, but even so, I was a bit shocked at how few options they had that didn't involve lobster.  Really not the place to bring friends who aren't into lobster (not that it matters really, since the food court location means everyone can get whatever they want from where and still eat together).

The menu starts with lobster rolls, the signature item.  All served with housemade potato chips and coleslaw, all $18.  There are 5 options, starting with the classics: the original Maine roll (chilled lobster, mayo based) and the Connecticut (warm lobster, butter based).  From there things get more interesting with the cajun (chilled, Canjun mayo) and the Beltway (warm, Old Bay, shallots, chives, and panko crumbed).  The final selection was created just for the San Francisco location: The Golden Gate, with miso-sesame sauce and shredded nori.  I'm not really sure what is San Francisco about this, but, I love miso, so it sounded great to me.

If an $18 roll feels like a splurge, opt for a lobster melt instead, offered in 3 varieties (including one with brie and shallot-cream cheese!), all for $10.  With the melts and rolls, you can opt for a combo to include a drink and fries ($4), soup ($5), or chowder and fries ($6).  Speaking of soup, there are two varieties, one is, you guessed it, lobster bisque, and the other clam chowder.

The final lobster choices are a decadent looking lobster mac and cheese, lobster cheese fries, and "the lobsicle"... a lobster tail on a stick (grilled or batter fried).  The lobster cheese fries are even more crazy than they sound, topped with lobster bisque, cheese curds, and of course lobster meat.  Other Lobster ME locations have lobster tacos, lobster & chips, lobster grilled cheese, lobster sliders, and lobster salad.  I expect the lobster salad will be added soon at our location, as we do have so many gluten-averse ...

So yes, this is a menu full of lobster.  If you somehow wind up here, and don't want lobster, you can get a regular grilled cheese, fries smothered in clam chowder and bacon, or ... a hot dog.  Their other locations offer a much more extensive non-lobster menu too, including fish & chips, fish tacos, shrimp tacos, and shrimp sliders.
Apple Cider. $3.
Beverage options are pretty basic: lemonade, cider, and iced tea for $3, or fountain drinks for $2.

I went for the cider, appreciating the nod to the east coast.  I grew up drinking a lot of fresh cider.

Fresh cider this was not.  Honestly, it tasted like apple juice.  It was fine apple juice, but there wasn't anything remotely cider-y about it.  Apple juice is fine, but, I like apple juice for breakfast, not alongside my lunch.  I grew a bit worried.  If the cider wasn't good, what did that indicate about ... the lobster?
Original Maine Style Lobster Roll / House-made Chips / Cole slaw. $18. 
All lobster rolls are "made to order in our split-top rolls, grilled to perfection, and served with house-made chips and cole slaw."  The Original Maine Style is described as "chilled lobster meat with just a touch of mayo and subtle spices."

If I were picking anything off the menu, I'd be hard pressed to make a decision.  I can never decide between a chilled lobster roll with mayo or hot with butter.  I love mayo, so I'm always inclined to go for that version, but, warm lobster and butter is hard to resist too.  They offered not only these two classic choices, but many, many more options.  I'm pretty sure I'd opt for the Golden Gate, because I just love miso so much.

Perhaps luckily for me, I had no choices to make.  I was there for the Grand Opening, and they were giving out one thing: the Original Maine Style Lobster Roll.

When my basket was handed over, I had to admit, it looked far more promising than I expected.  The bun was glistening, and it was generously loaded up with lobster.  I could see real chunks of lobster.  Well then.  This looked more legit than the apple cider.

I eagerly dug in, starting with the lobster roll of course.  The bun itself really was as advertised, grilled to perfection.  I was impressed with how perfectly grilled it was, nice and crisp on the outside, and piping hot.

The lobster too was actually pretty warm, which surprised me because it said it would be chilled.  I wonder if it was just heat transfer from the bun? Or was it under a heat lamp?  It didn't really matter though, the lobster was really quite good.  There were decent size chunks, some claws, and plenty of shredded meat.  It was very generously stuffed.  I never expected quite that much lobster in a quasi-fast food lobster roll!  The lobster was nicely cooked, no rubbery lobster here.  Not even one tiny piece of shell in my entire roll.  Really quite impressive.

The most impressive part was the seasoning.  There were tiny cubes of celery for some crunch and just salt and pepper (and other "subtle spices"?), but the seasoning really worked, accenting the lobster meat perfectly.  It also wasn't overdressed at all, again, as promised, just "a touch of mayo".

I laughed as I wrote this up, as I did so without the marketing material in front of me, and found myself writing exactly the same words they had  Roll: grilled to perfection. Lobster salad: touch of mayo. Check.

Hidden from view in this photo was a lemon wedge, which I thought was a great touch.  The little hit of acidity was perfect to accent the lobster.

The sides weren't quite as exciting as the lobster roll.  They weren't bad, but the roll was clearly the star.  They did go nicely with the roll though, and cole slaw and chips are two things I do love.

The house-made chips tasted almost burnt, a bit too oily and almost stale, although I think they really were fresh.  The salt level was nice though.  I'm guessing that they just haven't quite figured out the frying technique at this brand new location.

The slaw, served in a little paper cup, was fine.  A mix of mostly green cabbage, with a little red cabbage and carrots for color.  It was crisp and fresh tasting, lightly dressed, but not really memorable.  I wanted a bit more seasoning, or, because I like creamy slaw, more mayo.  But it was fine.

Overall, this really was an impressive showing, particularly for a food court location, and on opening day no less.  $18 is a bit high for grabbing an easy lunch at the mall, but the portion was generous, and the quality showed.  I'd certainly try it again, although next time, I've got eyes only for the miso roll!
Lobster Me Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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